Katie Kimball gripped the back of her student’s safety belt, helping to steady him as he leaned over the edge of the 22-foot platform.
In seconds she’d be sending that daring soul flying through the air in Barnum and Bailey fashion.
“People tell me I’d be the worst crisis negotiator,” said Kimball, part owner and operator of Twin Cities Trapeze Center, because she talks people right off the ledge.
Katie and her husband, Jake Kimball, opened the trapeze center in August, giving children and adults the opportunity to “run away and join the circus.”
But for many it’s a chance to face fears, seek an adrenaline rush or just say they’ve done it. A perk? It’s a deceptively strenuous workout.
The Kimballs moved from Oakland, Calif., where they had spent almost a decade studying and teaching the flying trapeze, to open one of the only schools of its kind in the Twin Cities at the old Hamm’s Brewery complex in St. Paul, one of a few tenants in a privately owned part of the complex.
About a dozen regulars take part in weekly practices that run year round on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays; the indoor facility at Hamm’s is new for the group.
High up near the rafters of an old warehouse on Minnehaha Avenue, Katie Kimball talks students like Anita Kore into shedding fear to take part in the 150-year-old art form.
“You just need to focus on things that are in your control,” Kore, a St. Paul native, said. “I have a respect for heights, but I do not let that paralyze me.”
A safety net, almost half a football field long, stretches underneath students as they place their feet on the edge. Kimball gives two signals and the second one means jump.
Teaching aide Michael Dupont stands at ground level, barking orders at Kore as she tries to execute her current trick — a back flip off the trapeze and into the net.
Kore grabs the bar and loads her body weight onto her arms, tightening her core to lift her legs over the bar.
“It’s a big game of Simon Says,” said Dupont, 39, who has trained athletes from Malaysia to Montreal, at “circus schools.”
Kore swings up and back, waiting for the cue from Dupont. The 51-year-old student thrusts her legs up over the bar and lets her hands go — hanging upside down by the grip of her knees.
Twin Cities Trapeze Center students range from newcomers to those as experienced as Dupont — who found the couple’s school through a friend who suggested the practices as a birthday present.
Regular students like Olaf Edgar and Kore practice trapeze as a hobby, saying it is more of a thrill-seeking activity than anything else.
“I’m always focusing on the next step,” Edgar said. “This is great for stress relief; keeps your mind off everyday problems.”
One 90-minute session can have an inexperienced attendee flying through the air, doing flips and even being caught midair by Jake Kimball — a “catcher.”
Edgar, a Forest Lake native, has only been to eight practices — but his next step involves completing a back flip off the trapeze bar and into Kimball’s arms as the pair swing like a pendulum through the air.
“People come in with all different ideas of what it’s going to be, all different levels of security, confidence,” Kimball said. “First of all, I tell people what they’re going through is normal. It’s normal to be afraid.”
“But that fear doesn’t have to stand in your way.”
Trapeze not your thing? They teach hula hoop lessons, too.
Andrew Krammer is a University of Minnesota student journalist on assignment for the Star Tribune.